Monday, July 24, 2006

What's for Dinner?

By Heather Justesen

The daily decision of what to eat and do I have the right ingredients can be so frustrating—I hate more than almost anything. I found some ways around this. One was in planning out my weekly menu in advance, another was making a list of dinners that we enjoyed and having that available as a reference when I started thinking about dinner. A third is having meals ready made.

I mentioned last week how I sometimes sit down and plan out my week’s menu in advance, then shop accordingly. That way I have all the ingredients on hand and know if I need to start a certain meal early, for example if it requires a crock pot. I can plan around scheduled events to make sure that there is something good on the table that night even if I have little or no time to make it.

I heard another variation of this from a friend who said she had every meal written on 3x5 index cards and after shopping according to what was on sale that week, she looked through her file and put all the meals that she had ingredients for in front of a divider and as she cooked those meals that week, she moved the card to the very back so she had an idea of how recently she had cooked the meal. This had the added bonus of giving her more flexibility each day to decide to switch one meal for another if she wasn’t in the mood for a particular meal.

Then again, there’s planning ahead, way ahead. In my second writer’s conference they suggested cooking up many meals in advance and freezing them. One of the writers said she uses the book “Dinner is Ready.” I had a church women’s meeting once where we had a class on this idea—preparing a month’s worth of meals in a day and sticking them in the freezer.

I did this once when I wasn’t going to be able to cook many meals. Some of the meals required a few minutes in the microwave while others needed a couple hours in the oven to be ready, but they were all tasty and there was a great variety available for my husband to heat up after a long day of work.

It only took me a day to cook and package enough meals for over forty dinners—with a little advanced planning. Do a search online for books using the key words ‘batch cooking’ or ‘thirty meals in a day’ and you’ll find plenty of options for places to turn, and best of all, the food was really delicious and took only minutes to prepare the day that we ate them. You can make a bunch and save them for days that are especially hectic, eating them a few days a week.

The bonus—the meals cost less than prepackaged, taste better and are better for you without all of the over-processed ingredients and preservatives you find in store-bought. And of course, it leaves your evening free to spend time with family and sneak in time for your writing.

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